Inspired by the Creativity of Children

Last week I went back to the ceramics studio after a break of a couple of months or so. Over the summer the art center runs a large number of classes for children and the place is very busy. I was finding it a bit hard to get started again and then I looked through some of the ceramics that the kids had created over the last few weeks.

I think they have done a fantastic job. One of the best things about the children’s work is that many of them (especially the younger ones) have no real constraints in their minds. They are free to just take an idea or prompt from the teacher and run with it.







After seeing these great works, I am reinvigorated for the fall ceramic season…!


Mondrian inspired work

Pieter Cornelis “Piet” Mondriaan was an important member of the De Stijl movement, founded in 1917, which sought to reduce their art to pure abstraction and simple form and color. Often this meant using only straight lines and primary colors in the work they produced. Mondrian (he dropped the second ‘a’ to fit in with the Paris art scene) is perhaps best known for his grid-based paintings that follow this form of “neoplasticism,” as shown in Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, painted in 1930.

I have always liked the simplicity and boldness of this art and a couple of years ago I created some digital art that was inspired by it, although I modified the form by using using lines that intersected at angles other than 90 degrees in place of strict perpendiculars associated with Mondrian et al.  More recently I have translated those thoughts into ceramic work that builds on this thought into a three dimensional piece. This is the first piece to come out of the kiln.






My tribute to Clarice Cliff ceramics

Nearly a century ago, back in the roaring twenties, there was a little known ceramic artist in England called Clarice Cliff, who worked at the A. J. Wilkinson pottery in Newport. She was soon noted as an accomplished decorator of their traditional wares and she was allowed free reign to also paint some of the defective pieces in her own patterns. Initially she covered the blemishes on the pottery in simple triangles, in a style which she named “Bizarre.” Much to the surprise of the company’s senior salesman, these pieces were very popular and led to Clarice being given more autonomy and to design the actual pieces of pottery for painting.

In the 1930s two factories were built to specifically produce her ceramic wares, always with bold colors and often with unusual shapes that fit the art deco style of the period. Her work was produced until 1964 and remains popular to this day.

When I was a child we were fortunate enough to own two Clarice Cliff vases and a bowl, and their designs always intrigued me. Last year, when I had a little time on my hands in the ceramics studio I created a vase in a similar style, but I left it on the shelf for nearly a year as I was not ready to tackle how to complete the design.

Over the last couple of weeks I finally got round to finishing this piece, loosely based on one of her leaf designs from another work, as my tribute to this quintessentially British designer.




Artful rescuing and repurposing an idea

Many months ago I created a roughly square ceramic plate on which I was going to use some creative glaze. After drying this was put in the kiln to bisque fire but unfortunately it cracked badly, possibly due to another piece of work being placed on it during firing, so creating some heat stress. I was disappointed but at least the plate was intact so I left it on the shelf in the studio. I would bring it down once in a while to think about what to do and then usually put it back again.

Then a few months ago I decided it was taking up too much space and I should experiment with some more glazes and finally use this piece. So, I dipped one half in assad black glaze and the other in white and then fired it, as this was my favorite combo at that time for several pieces I had created.

When I took the plate from the kiln I was immediately struck by the vision of a dark sky being torn asunder by a tornado tearing across the plain, with mountains in the distance.

A few more weeks passed and I thought why not add the most iconic red shoes to this scene as a finishing touch!


It would be great to hear of others’ stories of saving or reusing damaged pieces of art to create a totally new piece.


Sculpture – Butterfly Effect

Several months ago I created a clay sculpture in the shape of a brain when I was at home and then made holes in it with view to turning it into an unusual piece, experimenting with different glazes. Well, it was only after I put it through a bisque firing that I realized I had used the same clay as my infamous “exploding bowls” that had caused me so many challenges earlier in the year, so I put the idea on hold as to how to finish the project.

Fast forward several weeks and I was reminded that there was an exhibition coming up at the Allinson Gallery at Chester County Art Association, with the theme “Color Obsession” so I stirred myself into a flurry of activity and finally created a work over a couple of weeks. To finish this piece I used wire, ten butterflies cut from an old map and several different colored cans of spray paint in place of glaze. I deliberately sprayed the brain outside on a windy day so that it was not an even covering but rather a series of small specks of different colors, which overlaid. It was a bit of a trial mounting the wire frame and then the ceramic onto a wooden board and then adding a burlap cover, but I was pleased with the effect.

Today I was even more surprised when I found that Butterfly Effect was the first piece to be sold in the exhibition!


Amazing Glazing

I have been experimenting with some of the glazes at the Art Center, mixing two or three on a bowl in order to see how they come out. So far the results have been quite pleasing and have been able to create a distraction to the imperfections of the asymmetrical bowls that I seem to be producing of late when using the standing potter’s wheel.

I continue to practice and learn and, most importantly, enjoy myself with this pottering about.


I particularly like this black and white bowl, and the way the Assad Black glaze formed various shades of green where it overlapped onto the white.



Shivering and Dunting

I went to the ceramics studio last night with high hopes of collecting my latest two holey bowls that had been fired. The kilns had been broken for a while now so I was really eager to see how they turned out now the kilns were running again.

It was not as I expected!

I was faced with a kiln shelf that held the shattered remains of the two bowls. Strangely the glaze had vitrified and there was no slumping, so the bowls must have cracked and shattered during the cool down period of the cycle. Amazingly, another artist’s piece that had shared the shelf was unaffected, so although it looks as though the pieces exploded they probably just cracked, shattered and fell apart. At least that was good, as I would have felt dreadful if someone else’s hard work had been destroyed too.


We discussed this for a while and the studio director said she had never seen anything quite like it.

The glaze on one bowl had sloughed off, a situation she described as “shivering”, but it was odd that it had happened in quite large areas.

There was nothing unusual about the way I glazed the bowls, they were both dipped in the glazes and then left to dry as usual. With the kilns out of order for a couple of weeks I can definitely say the bowls were dry, so moisture should not have been a problem.

Afterwards, a search on the web resulted in the introduction of a new term  into my vocabulary – “dunting,” and also provided me with some fascinating scientific background to explain the probable cause.

As the ceramic cools down in the kiln below 1063°F (573°C) the silica molecules in the clay abruptly rearrange themselves and cause the pot to contract rapidly. The same occurs as the temperature drops to 439°F (226°C). These two temperatures are known as silica “inversion points,” and they set up lines of stress on the pot due to differential cooling. This effect is exacerbated by  the amount of silica in the clay used, the pot shape and even the thickness of the glaze applied.

It would appear to me that the holes in my holey bowls probably created additional areas of stress by causing uneven cooling of the sides of the bowl, resulting in catastrophic cracking.

At least that’s what I think happened!

It is annoying but it does also serve to illustrate just how precarious is the work of a ceramacist. Problems with creating the initial piece by hand or wheel merge into issues of potential cracking when the piece initially dries to leather hard, possible damage when turning the piece, and chances for chipping when dried ready for the bisque firing. The possibility of cracking and breaking during the initial fire is the next risk, followed by the risk of damage when removing and storing prior to glazing. And lastly, the risk of failing in the final glaze fire – both from the kiln cycle not being correct leading to glaze problems through under-firing or over-firing (I’ve had both) or, in this (the worst) case, catastrophic structural failure.

When I look at some delicate ceramic ware that artists produce I am truly amazed it actually survived all this – only then to be placed precariously on a shelf for someone to knock onto the floor!

I have another two holey bowls ready to be fired but, to be honest, I am a little worried about what will happen with these pieces too. I also need to create a couple more to replace those that were lost, although I may vary the design a little to reduce stress on the pieces, as I really liked the glazes of these two!


Holier Bowls

And so it continues. After the stress of this week I managed to get some time to continue with my latest hand made “holey bowl” This one is 10” (25cm) diameter and I decided to make the rim undulating rather than flat, so it was time to get the shaving tools out while the clay was still at the “leather hard” stage. I’m looking forward to getting this one fired as I have some interesting ideas for glazes that I want to try out too.


Anyhow it was nice to be able to disengage from the outside world for a while and concentrate to an artistic endeavor for an hour or so.

It’s definitely something I would recommend to induce calm at this time!


Squaring the circle

The term “squaring the circle” originates from ancient developers of geometry and refers to the challenge of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle. It was proven to be impossible in 1882, when pi was proven to be a transcendental, and not an algebraic irrational number. 

It is now used sometimes as a metaphor for trying to achieve the impossible.

On a much more down to earth note, I was practicing throwing bowls on the wheel yesterday and when I finished one I thought it would be interesting to hake a square topped bowl just for the sake of it. So, this is the first stage of my impossibowl, as I wait for it to dry a little before further manipulation…



Pottering about with bowls

I mentioned previously that I was going back to the wheel after having spent many weeks hand building in clay. Well, after a few false starts and watching several videos on youTube I spent about an hour at the art center yesterday and managed to create a couple of bowls that I’m quite happy with. Clearly I have a long way to go, but it’s a great experience, even when it goes wrong, and the great thing about clay is that it’s totally reusable up until it’s fired. And, as I found out in my reading, even after the initial bisque firing it can still be ground up, sieved and then used as ‘grog’ in other pottery.

My most important tips so far for using the wheel are that it is essential to wedge the clay well to get the clay particles aligned and secondly, always be gentle when removing hands from the spinning pot. All simple stuff to the experienced potter, but often they forget to tell the obvious things to us learners.




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